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Inc. v. Metropolitan Louisville Women's Political Caucus, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

January 14, 2019

NATIONAL WOMEN'S POLITICAL CAUCUS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN LOUISVILLE WOMEN'S POLITICAL CAUCUS, INC., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The National Women's Political Caucus (“NWPC”) brings this trademark infringement and unfair competition suit against Metropolitan Louisville Women's Political Caucus (“MLWPC”). MLWPC has moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue or, alternatively, to transfer the case to a more appropriate venue. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny all of MLWPC's motions and retain jurisdiction over the case.

         I. Background

         The Court here provides a brief factual overview to orient the personal jurisdiction and venue analysis. Further details relevant to that analysis will be set forth later in the opinion.

         Founded in 1971, NWPC is a multi-partisan, grassroots political organization that seeks to increase women's participation in politics. Compl. ¶ 6. A nonprofit corporation organized under District of Columbia law, NWPC's lone office and employee are located in the District. Id. ¶ 1. In July 1971, NWPC began using in commerce the trademarks “National Women's Political Caucus, ” “NWPC, ” and an interlocking five-circle logo, intended to represent women of different races working together toward a common purpose. Id. ¶¶ 8-11. In 2004, NWPC began using in commerce a modernized version of the logo. Id. ¶ 12. NWPC contends that one or the other of the two designs have been in continuous commercial use since 1971. It also contends that it has acquired proper registration for these marks. See id. ¶¶ 18-23.

         MLWPC was established in 1972 as a local chapter of NWPC. Id. ¶ 24. It is a nonprofit corporation organized under Kentucky law and headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky. Id. ¶ 2. NWPC says that it permitted MLWPC to use its marks so long as MLWPC remained a “local chapter in good standing, ” which requires the payment of membership dues to NWPC, attendance at NWPC meetings, and compliance with NWPC's bylaws, among other things. Id. ¶¶ 27-29.

         In October 2016, however, NWPC “became concerned that MLWPC was violating NWPC's bylaws, including by endorsing male candidates for office and by failing to collect and transmit membership dues to NWPC.” Id. ¶ 30. In December 2017, an NWPC attorney sent MLWPC a demand letter that purported to revoke MLWPC's permission to use any NWPC mark. Id. ¶ 32. MLWPC refused to comply, even after NWPC repeated its demands. See id. ¶¶ 33-36.

         NWPC filed suit in June 2018. It brought claims for trademark infringement under 15 U.S.C. § 1114(1); trademark infringement, unfair competition, false designation of origin, and trade name infringement under 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a); and common-law trademark infringement, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment. MLWPC thereafter moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue or, alternatively, to transfer the case to Kentucky, which it contends is a more appropriate venue. Those motions are now ripe for the Court's resolution.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

         When a defendant moves to dismiss a lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2), the “plaintiff bears the burden of making a prima facie showing that the Court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant.” Bigelow v. Garrett, 299 F.Supp.3d 34, 40-41 (D.D.C. 2018) (citation omitted). To do so, the “plaintiff must provide sufficient factual allegations, apart from mere conclusory assertions, to support the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendant.” Howe v. Embassy of Italy, 68 F.Supp.3d 26, 29 (D.D.C. 2014). In determining whether a plaintiff has met this burden, “the Court is not limited to the four corners of the operative complaint, but rather may receive and weigh affidavits and other relevant matter to assist in determining jurisdictional facts.” Xie v. Sklover & Co., LLC, 260 F.Supp.3d 30, 37 (D.D.C. 2017) (internal quotations marks and citation omitted). “All factual discrepancies, however, must be resolved in the plaintiff's favor.” Bigelow, 299 F.Supp.3d at 41.

         B. Motion to Dismiss or Transfer for Improper Venue

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(3), a defendant may move to dismiss a suit for improper venue. “In considering a Rule 12(b)(3) motion, the court accepts the plaintiff's well-pled factual allegations regarding venue as true, draws all reasonable inferences from those allegations in the plaintiff's favor, and resolves any factual conflicts in the plaintiff's favor.” Hunter v. Johanns, 517 F.Supp.2d 340, 343 (D.D.C. 2007) (quoting Darby v. Dep't of Energy, 231 F.Supp.2d 274, 276 (D.D.C. 2002)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. Analysis

         MLWPC moves to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue. The Court begins with the personal jurisdiction question.

         A. Personal Jurisdiction

         “There are two types of personal jurisdiction: ‘general or all-purpose jurisdiction, and specific or case-linked jurisdiction.'” Xie, 260 F.Supp.3d at 39 (quoting Goodyear Dunlop Tires Operations, S.A. v. Brown, 564 U.S. 915, 919 (2011)). General jurisdiction exists where a defendant is so “at home” in the forum state that they can be sued there for any reason, whether related to the defendant's activities in the forum or not. Goodyear, 546 U.S. at 919. Specific jurisdiction, as its name implies, means that the defendant's contacts with the state must be tethered to the subject of the suit. Id. NWPC contends that the Court would have either form of jurisdiction over MLWPC, though it offers a serious argument only in regard to the latter. The Court will accordingly focus its analysis on that issue.

         Determining whether the Court has personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant like MLWPC turns, at first glance, on two questions: first, whether the D.C. long-arm statute authorizes jurisdiction, see D.C. Code § 13-423, and second, whether the exercise of jurisdiction comports with federal due process. Xie, 260 F.Supp.3d at 39. But these two questions are really one and the same: The D.C. long-arm statute, as most relevant here, authorizes the exercise of jurisdiction over any defendant “transacting any business in the District of Columbia, ” D.C. Code § 13-423(a)(1), and this prong of the statute ...


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